Pollution ‘cap-and-trade’ looks to stop runoff into Bay -- Gazette.Net


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While the population in Maryland continues to grow and new developments dot the landscape, Gov. Martin O’Malley is looking into ways to keep them from contributing pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.

On WTOP radio’s “Ask the Governor” show Monday morning, O’Malley (D) compared a plan developed by the Department of the Environment — called Accounting for Growth — to a cap-and- trade program. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated that the state create such a plan.

Once the regulations are finalized in December, developers will be required under the program to offset any pollution they produce by buying “pollution credits” from other entities that have cut their nutrient runoff.

The program is designed to favor the redevelopment of existing residential and commercial areas rather than forested areas or farmland. Development that disturbs one acre or more in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, or that changes land use from a “natural land use,” will be subject to the program.

“This is a great way to help ensure growth is happening in existing areas,” said Samantha Kappalman, spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment.

The Accounting for Growth program is part of the administration’s larger effort, working with neighboring states and the federal government, to clean up the Bay. The program was buried in a bill passed in the last legislative session known as the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Protection Act, or colloquially as “the septic bill.”

Most attention was given to the bill’s restrictions on installing septic systems in rural areas and a tier system that counties must adopt if they are to continue major developments.

Tiers are based on what kind of sewer or septic system they have, and how much development is in the area. Developers would not be able to install major subdivisions on septic systems unless they purchase pollution credits.

For lawmakers in rural Maryland, these efforts trample on property rights, as the regulations make it harder to develop property in those areas.

“My concern is that these unfunded mandates are taking away the ability of local governments to make local land use decisions,” said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Dist. 36) of Chesapeake City.

Smigiel said the Rural County Coalition will meet Monday in Annapolis to consider a possible lawsuit against the state for infringing on local authority through the septic bill.

Counties must adopt tier plans by Dec. 31.

Without a plan, the ability of counties to build major subdivisions outside areas with existing sewer service will be restricted, said Andrew Ratner, spokesman for the Department of Planning.

“It’s all part of the same effort,” Ratner said of the Department of the Environment’s offset program and the Department of Planning’s tier program. “The main problem is that the Bay is being polluted with these nutrients. These are different solutions to the same problem.”

hnunn@gazette.net